Nickel Review: 5 Categories, 5 Words
Virtual Reality Review of “Metamorphic”
Score & Sound: ethereal
Art & Wardrobe: sylvan
Nickel Rating: 4/5¢
Now, it might be difficult to discern what each of my traditional categories would apply to when it comes to a social virtual reality experience like Sundance 2020’s “Metamorphic”, but it works! My mother and I had the opportunity to don VR headsets and explore the “Metamorphic” world at our own pace; we were given the ability to completely interact with both the ever-changing environment as well as each other. As soon as we stepped out of the simulation, I knew I had to review this piece, as it moved me in more ways than one! Check out their trailer here:
Cinematography: As with any VR experience, the pilot serves as the camera, so it felt akin to Victroria, 1917, or Cloverfield with their ample use of single-shot shaky-cam. In “Metamorphic” the expanse is brilliantly sprawling, spanning vastly beyond the confines of the room in which you put on the headset. This led me, as the “camera operator,” to take long sweeping pans of the horizon, extricated from the traditional responsibilities of a cinematographer. At times, I chose to jerk my head about the room to see just how snappy and responsive the space was. It was interactivity on another level.
Score & Sound: VR has an advantage over other art forms in that it is inherently immersive by design. The audience is physically placed into the art as a participant, and it is the job of the creator to keep them there mentally. Sound design is key. Here, the creators employ an ethereal soundtrack comprised of lo-fi tones and voices, highlighting the organic growth of the world. Interaction with objects could have used more sound effects, but the atmospheric music was hardly a detraction from the experience.
Art & Wardrobe: The visuals are where the piece truly shines, featuring original art by Wesley Allsbrook. While in “Metamorphic,” you are watching a world be born from wisps of color, as if Bob Ross was painting the vicinity around you. The flow of flora floods your field of view as you flit about the forming forest. The piece was a sylvan fusion of paint and plant. The production design was reminiscent of “Loving Vincent,” an experimental short film comprised entirely of Van Gogh-style oil paintings.
Story: Since the piece is immersive and interactive, everyone’s story will feel different. My mother and I walked throughout the room, interfacing with all the elements available to us (more on this later). We were watching a world be crafted from darkness via the introduction of color. It was very self-reflective and therapeutic, but also constantly changing. Nothing ever lasted long. Standing in stark contrast to life in NYC, it was refreshing to spend time in a clean and beautiful environment, no matter how ephemeral the experience. Fleeting destruction and creation go hand in hand.
Acting: This is the category with which I will take the most liberty. The creators took a heuristic approach here: you, as the pilot, are an actor in this painted realm, and the realm reacts to you. As the environment develops, you can wave your hand through the colors of the wind, and they will actively wrap around your hand and continue on. As things took more shape, other denizens of this universe sprouted from the woodwork, waltzing about like trees that just learned to walk. While there was no haptic feedback, colliding with structures as they formed would either delay their construction or cause everything to burst into pieces. Curiosity led to trial-and-discovery!
Nickel Rating: 4/5¢: “Metamorphic” took me to another plane, far away from the hullabaloo of Sundance, and directly into a carefully crafted adventure. If you enjoyed the trailer, an extended video experience can be found here, but nothing will compare to living in “Metamorphic” for the brief time that we did: https://vimeo.com/390795444/2b5c7be24e